For the better or worse, turning a complete 180 doesn’t always land smoothly on the runway. After two albums, Lorde has taken this turn with only one foot patted on the ground on her new album Solar Power. Throughout the years, we have gotten accustomed to Lorde’s atmospheric and witchy-pop style that oozes synths. And after years of keeping it consistent, Lorde has given the sun a chance. She trades in her black and dark-tinted clothes and raw emotions for bathing suits and warm vibes, and it works for the most part. Lorde has never been boring, bringing something new and exciting to each album, performance, song, and so forth, but not Solar Power.
Leading up to Solar Power, Lorde has been a little quiet. Five years ago, Lorde released the phenomenal album Melodrama. Entrenched in dark synths and mood-inducing piano keys, Melodrama explored Lorde’s strengths at the next level. And as I listened to Solar Power, the memory of the first time I played Melodrama hit me. It was an ear-catching experience that grasped me at every turn. That wasn’t always the feeling throughout Solar Power. I found myself dumbfounded, trying to understand how Lorde seemingly missed more than she hit. And this was after feeling mesmerized by the first single. There is a whirlwind of complexities hidden within the crevices, but the lack of shine has made it forgettable.
Solar Power is reminiscent of the smooth summer rock era of the late 50s and early 60s. Lorde mentioned in an interview with Spotify that one of the main influences for the sound of Solar Power comes from bands like The 5th Dimension, and particularly the song “Age of Aquarius.” Unlike “Age of Aquarius,” Solar Power lacks the intricacies that made the sound such a force in the summer. It has a mellow consistency and themes about wellness and mental health, and unfortunately, it lacks a spark. The closest thing to a spark is the songs “Dominoes” and “Solar Power.” Other times, you’re left there sitting and yawning, waiting for it to breeze by.
When Lorde fans were beginning to feed again, like them, I was ecstatic about this new direction for Lorde. She isn’t focused on the operatics and instead focusing on releasing her energy differently. After the first single, “Solar Power,” this energy kept growing into an array of unique concepts that never feel complete. Lorde and Jack Antanoff can make these songs vibrant, and instead, they focus predominantly on the atmosphere and songwriting, so it doesn’t cut corners where it counts.
“Dominoes” is the definitive highlight on the album, despite the disappointing 2 minutes run time. The guitar strings twinkle with the radiant and softened sun of a perfect summer day. The context of the song doesn’t match the vibe, albeit Lorde’s vibrant vocal performance. Unlike the former, “Mood Ring” tacks on more than a melodic guitar. The layers of percussion and strings weave in a smooth tangent that elevates Lorde’s vocal performance, including subtle sarcastic notes. Along with “Solar Power,” “Dominoes,” and “Oceanic Feeling,” “Mood Ring” is a rare moment where what they sought to accomplish is accomplished.
The production from Jack Antanoff, Lorde, and sometimes Malay has a smooth consistency on a technical level. You rarely feel like production sounds unfinished or the mixing is rough, and it benefits the quality. Unfortunately, after some time, it starts to sound too similar. Having a laid-back approach can undercut the delivery of the songwriting as the style can wane the boredom here and there. Some songs circle past simplicity due to Lorde’s eloquent vocal performances. It gives Lorde the fluidity to work with different pitches, despite falling into familiar waters sometimes. It saves some songs from tapering off from the bland production.
It gets to a point where you’ll be divisive on which songs you like and which you don’t. It stems from the sonic consistency that makes many songs sound similar. “Stoned At the Nail Salon” and “Oceanic Feeling,” for example. They are focused and atmospheric, as it plays to her vocal strengths. However, one isn’t as interesting. “Oceanic Feeling” is a beautiful closer that paces itself in tangent with the waves of the water she has painted. “California,” which precedes “Stoned At The Nail Salon,” does a better job in weaving together the psychedelic undertones subtly. It lets you embrace the summer breeze created by the song as you lay back under the hot summer sun.
Albeit the shift in direction, the songwriting never takes a step back. Lorde reflects on her life experiences, sometimes traveling to speak to her younger self and tell her everything will be fine. So, it isn’t like Solar Power lacks substance, but it doesn’t have enough external world-building. It muddles the songs into a realm of forgetfulness, as you forget what has played. The pacing doesn’t have issues; however, there is only so much that can do to elevate the sound. For one, add some low-barring drums instead of esoteric strings that are too enamored with themselves that variety tends to lack here and there.
Solar Power is a disappointment primarily due to the production. Lorde’s songwriting doesn’t take a step back as she tacks on some radiant melodies and harmonies. Unfortunately, it constantly feels like I never know which song I’m listening to, as some songs sound too similar to compare. The depth of the songwriting continues to show Lorde’s strength, but the boring production can leave you feeling empty. There is enough to keep interest, but for the most part, it is a fine album.